When Bahrain’s army opened fire on unarmed protesters yesterday there was little reason to suppose that this was anything other than a cold and calculated show of force. The lesson from Cairo for many Arab leaders was that a regime that is timid about killing its own people will quickly fall. Political dissent cannot be crushed by thugs marauding on camels and horses. The decisive message comes as a government’s marksman steadies his sight with a protester’s head fixed in the cross-hairs. There was nothing random about this act of violence:
But then comes the stunningly eloquent Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, expressing remorse about the tragic events of recent days.
Are we to supposed that an army captain at Pearl Roundabout was responsible for yesterday’s bloodshed. Or was it that Crown Prince Salman’s consternation was not in response to recklessness in the lower ranks but because the Al Khalifa royal family was under pressure from a higher level?
Robert Fisk reports:
Rumours burned like petrol in Bahrain yesterday and many medical staff were insisting that up to 60 corpses had been taken from Pearl Square on Thursday morning and that police were seen by crowds loading bodies into three refrigerated trucks. One man showed me a mobile phone snapshot in which the three trucks could be seen clearly, parked behind several army armoured personnel carriers. According to other demonstrators, the vehicles, which bore Saudi registration plates, were later seen on the highway to Saudi Arabia. It is easy to dismiss such ghoulish stories, but I found one man – another male nurse at the hospital who works under the umbrella of the United Nations – who told me that an American colleague, he gave his name as “Jarrod”, had videotaped the bodies being put into the trucks but was then arrested by the police and had not been seen since.
Why has the royal family of Bahrain allowed its soldiers to open fire at peaceful demonstrators? To turn on Bahraini civilians with live fire within 24 hours of the earlier killings seems like an act of lunacy.
But the heavy hand of Saudi Arabia may not be far away. The Saudis are fearful that the demonstrations in Manama and the towns of Bahrain will light equally provocative fires in the east of their kingdom, where a substantial Shia minority lives around Dhahran and other towns close to the Kuwaiti border. Their desire to see the Shia of Bahrain crushed as quickly as possible was made very clear at Thursday’s Gulf summit here, with all the sheikhs and princes agreeing that there would be no Egyptian-style revolution in a kingdom which has a Shia majority of perhaps 70 per cent and a small Sunni minority which includes the royal family.